Monday, July 13, 2020
July 13, 2020

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In Our View: Supreme Court correct to support equal rights for gay, transgender workers

The Columbian

This week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision confirming workplace civil rights for gay and transgender employees is an important step toward equality for all Americans. The court ruled 6-3 that discrimination based on sexuality or gender is unconstitutional under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” reads the decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Notably, the court ignored partisan politics — as it always should — in rendering the decision. Gorsuch was appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017; Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005, also joined four justices appointed by Democratic presidents in forming the majority.

That majority rightly determined that the Civil Rights Act is not limited to the language specified in the law, which says employers may not fire or discriminate against a worker “because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Gorsuch noted that two gay men who brought the case were fired for something that would have been acceptable to their employers in a woman — an attraction to men.

While that likely was not on the minds of lawmakers who passed the law a half-century ago, the court previously has extended protections beyond those explicitly defined. In a 1998 case, famously conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII. But statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.”

Arriving at a time when discrimination is at the forefront of American discourse, the decision is a step toward full equality for all. But much work remains. Congress should pass the Equality Act, which passed the House of Representatives last year but stalled in the Senate; among Washington’s delegation, Democrats supported the bill and Republicans voted no. And many Americans have been awakened to the realities of discriminatory policing and the need to legislatively address the issue.

The United States’ promise to its citizens is one of equal treatment that requires safeguards for the benefit of all.

Meanwhile, Monday’s ruling raises legitimate questions from religious organizations that likely will need to be addressed by Congress and the courts. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote, “The ruling also will have seismic implications for religious liberty, setting off potentially years of lawsuits and court struggles, about what this means, for example, for religious organizations with religious convictions about the meaning of sex and sexuality.”

The ruling, however, does not dictate that any organization must hire somebody whose beliefs run counter to those of an employer. It simply affirms the notion that all Americans are endowed with unalienable rights.

That is an important step toward equality in the workplace and toward the abolition of mistreatment based on sex or gender. The lives of millions of Americans will be made better for it, and that will strengthen our nation.